Home / Articles / The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims, 2016
Introduction: A Regional Survey
2015 could be called, among other things, The Year of Migrations. I have three in mind and all of them begin or end up in war-torn Syria.
The First and most startling Migration is the vast and illegal movement of migrants, mostly Muslim, attempting to reach EU countries – some from Afghanistan, some from Eritrea and sub-Saharan Africa and even from Egypt, but increasingly from Syria. In all cases the migrants are either attempting to cross the Mediterranean by boat from a number of ports along Libya’s coastline to make land in Italy or crossing from Syria to Turkey and then by boat across the Aegean Sea to Greece. This second wave is overwhelmingly Syrian, They are refugees, technically illegal because they lack visas, but their status is different unlike so many of the other migrants attempting to reach Europe who are “economic migrants” seeking a better life, and not directly threatened by either an oppressive government or by warfare. Both qualifying conditions are highly relevant to a Syrian civil war that has cost approximately 300,000 dead of which a high percentage are civilian. As such the Syrians cannot be deported back even if arriving in Europe without a visa as they all do, given that they are legitimate refugees, entitled by UN and other international standards to refuge.
For those Syrians who make their way to the Turkish coast and then across the Aegean Sea to those Greek islands not far from the Turkish coastline, it is a very much shorter distance than the crossing of the Mediterranean. But it is still dangerous given the cheap rubber dinghies into which they are crammed by the Turkish traffickers, and the cheap, frequently useless life jackets the migrants purchase in Turkey prior to boarding. For most of the migrants, particularly the Syrians and others who can establish they have come from a turbulent battle zone—like parts of Afghanistan or Iraq or are in danger of arrest in Eritrea, a country with a particularly oppressive regime— and thus also qualify as legitimate refugees, Italy and even more so Greece are not intended final destinations. They are viewed as but passageways to the most prosperous parts of the EU.
The movement of economic migrants is illegal not just because no visas have been issued by any of the countries through which they pass enroute to the EU or by any EU countries, but because no country is obliged, unlike the case of refugees, to accept them. But at least until the Fall of 2015, upon reaching land in either Italy or Greece, and evading detainment in a migrant/refugee center upon arrival (which is not the case with those rescued at sea by the Italian Coast Guard) they could move freely within most of the EU—meaning those EU countries including Greece and Italy that had signed the Schengen Agreement. The Agreement allows, or perhaps soon, more correctly had allowed, free movement from within the Schengen Area of the EU which became virtually borderless. Border posts were closed down in the mid-90s, except for those posts bordering territories outside the Schengen Area. But given the impact of increasingly large numbers of illegal migrants moving across Europe, internal Schengen Area border posts are starting to go back up.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR released extraordinary statistics in mid-August of 2015 estimating that 310,000 illegal migrants had…